Former cocaine dealer Richard Buttrose’s road to redemption
NINE years in prison cemented Richard Buttrose's commitment to helping others.
The now 47-year-old nephew of media identity Ita Buttrose was determined to use his time wisely after his 2009 arrest and came out of prison with a Bachelor in Business from RMIT and an MBA in Finance from Charles Sturt University.
"I decided early on that I was going to make the time work for me," he said. "I knew I was going to be there for a long time and didn't want to come out the other side without having achieved something. I saw plenty of other guys doing long sentences who didn't do a thing and I always thought 'what a waste of time'."
Buttrose served nine years of a 12-year sentence for drug supply after police caught him with a 6kg bag of cocaine and more than $1.3 million in cash in 2009.
He was released from prison in 2017 and now runs a legal advisory business advocating for people who can't afford lawyers.
Although his time in prison was traumatic - Buttrose said he lived in a "perpetual environment of fear" - he said getting arrested was the best thing that ever happened to him.
"I think the road to redemption started the second I got arrested," he told The Saturday Telegraph in his first interview since tasting freedom.
"Prison taught me about life, politics and the art of negotiation. It taught me about patience and it made me resilient.
"But most importantly it opened my eyes to the ravages of drug abuse in society and how it adversely affects so many lives. There were many times when I reflected on what I'd done and it embarrassed me. I mean, really, what the hell was I thinking?"
Buttrose's descent into drug dealing began in the late 2000s when his dealer encouraged him to sell cocaine to his friends.
"Before I knew it, what started as supplying small amounts to friends ended up being something significantly bigger," he said.
He soon became known as "the man", attracting social status and attention that he found very rewarding, according to a psychologist who testified at his court case in 2010.
His drug use blindsided his family, including his aunt Ita, who once described Richard as "the last person in the world" she imagined would use or sell cocaine.
Buttrose's arrest sent shockwaves through Sydney's eastern suburbs, especially the clientele named in the infamous black book that police found in his Mercedes when he was arrested.
Rumoured to include senior politicians, film stars, lawyers, Olympians and high-profile media identities, Buttrose confirmed the clientele were from "the top end of town".
In prison, he met famous faces of a different kind, crossing paths with high-profile inmates including former politicians Eddie Obeid and Milton Markopoulos and "almost everyone from every Underbelly series" including Evangelos "The Running Man" Goussis, depicted by Alex Dimitriades in the television show.
His famous aunt visited him regularly.
Buttrose isn't embarrassed to admit that jail is a scary place full of dangerous people.
"I spent two years in 'maxo' where half the blokes were murderers," he said.
"I lost count of how many times I watched two guys beat the hell out of each other, only for them to be sharing a coffee and a chat the next day.
"It's a strange place with even stranger rules that take a bit of getting used to. Every emotion is magnified. Everything you say and do could get you killed."
Careful with his words, Buttrose continued: "There were a lot of nice guys in there, too. But they'd been dealt a rough hand in life. Through no fault of their own, they couldn't read or write and to them, crime was their only option. So there were 40-year-old men who were illiterate and that's really quite sad.
"It all started there, I suppose. I started by helping guys read and understand legal correspondence. That led to writing letters in response and in the end I was writing submissions for people's criminal trials. Some of these guys had done some pretty horrific stuff, but you come desensitised to all of that."
That is Buttrose's future - helping others. He has set up his own legal advocacy business but importantly points out that he is not a lawyer.
"My journey through the courts took seven years. It was long and arduous and, at the time, it seemed that all it was doing was causing me stress. But what I didn't realise was that it was teaching me how the system works. How applications are made, how submissions are written and how the law works," he said.
"There's a complex interaction between legislation and case law and it's all about finding the right combination to build your case and win the argument. Now I reckon I'm pretty bloody good at it."
Buttrose recently represented Vaucluse handyman, Bruce Davidson, who was in a dispute with his billionaire neighbour over a hedge of Leyland Cypress trees.
"Bruce had limited resources so I tried to mediate, but the matter ended up in the Land and Environment Court," Buttrose said.
"Bruce's neighbour threw everything at this. He had a barrister, three solicitors, a town planner and an arborist. He even had a 'view expert'. I'd never run a court case before … but I did plenty of homework before walking into court and it all paid off, because we won the case. Bruce was over the moon, but I think it meant more to me."
Buttrose is also kicking goals in his personal life, in a relationship with Sydney publicist Tiffany Farrington.
The pair met two months after he was released from prison when introduced by a mutual friend on Bondi Beach.
"Tiffany was unexpected," he said. "When I walked out of prison I had just the clothes that I was wearing. My aunt and an old racing car buddy, Bruce Thomlinson, gave me a few dollars to buy a new wardrobe, but I had such a long way to go to rebuild my life that romance wasn't even on the radar. I definitely wasn't looking for love, so Tiff was a wonderful surprise.
"Now I've found love, my legal advocacy business is growing and I love everything about that; I've also got the love of my trusty hound, Shady. So, life is great."